It was a ruse the 60-year-old Mena had mastered — and used to bilk trusting churchgoers out of thousands of dollars.
Already convicted in February after impersonating a priest and conning parishioners, Mena stood before a judge again Friday.
“You can’t go into a church and pretend you’re a priest,” Judge Frederick Wapner told Mena, according to the newspaper. “That’s what you got convicted for and when you got out, you did the same thing.”
Mena has been donning priestly robes for decades across Southern California, and it’s unclear how many people came to think of him as “Padre.”
In January 2015, he walked into St. Ignatius of Loyola parish, claiming to be a substitute priest, The Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan reported.
Churchgoers were quickly enamored with his good-natured smiles and uplifting sermons. He heard their confessions, officiated a wedding and organized prayer meetings.
Then he started taking their money.
At first he started selling CDs and peddling a book he says he wrote.
Then he capitalized on an upcoming visit to the United States by Pope Francis, The Post wrote.
He said he wanted a group from the church to fly to Philadelphia in September for the papal visit. People who wanted to go would have to give him up to $1,000 to cover airfare and lodging in convents.
But details were always hazy.
“We were thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll have this great time. … We’ll see the pope and it will be a great experience,’ ” Michelle Rodriguez, a St. Ignatius parishioner who paid more than $900 for the phony trip to see the pope, told the Los Angeles Times. “He used us, he stole from us.”
Church officials asked Mena for his credentials, but he balked. Four months after he walked into their parish, they called the police on him.
Mena, police learned, was one of 95 priest impersonators identified by the archdiocese of Los Angeles, according to the Associated Press. It distributed the list to warn parishes. That didn’t stop Mena from showing up at parishes and prayer groups in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Stockton, Fresno and Orange counties.
Mena had been running the scam for decades, the AP reported. One church group loaned him $16,000 to produce CDs about Pope Francis that turned out to be pirated. Another churchgoer gave him $6,000.
Mena always vanished before police or authorities within the Catholic Church could act, the AP said.
Churchgoers said he was able to do the priest scam again and again because a priest embodies an innate trust.
“We had always been raised not to question authority figures. He’s a priest — what he said is holy writ,” Oviedo told the AP. “We never imagined he was a phony.”
One churchgoer did.
Earlier this month, Mena attended a service at St. Francis Xavier Church in the arts district, LAPD Detective Gary Guevara told the Los Angeles Times. Afterward he left behind a note signed “Father Edwin Lima.”
But a church secretary grew suspicious. The notified church authorities, who called police. They arrested Mena a short time later.